In the fourth installment of the revolutionary The Matrix series, director and one half of the original creators, Lana Wachowski, looks to bend structure and format for a film that is exhilarating in its endless imagination in the face of an industry that values sameness. Releasing a week after Spider-Man: No Way Home, it’s easy to see the similarities but also great differences in how two franchises looked to build off their legacy. And while there’s plenty to support in the former, The Matrix Resurrections proves mightier in its ability to offer closure, while refusing to give viewers easy answers or even a story that more directly relates to the original trilogy and its meaning.
Warning: Spoilers for the film ahead
We meet Mr. Anderson, aka Neo, aka Keanu Reeves, 60-years after the events of The Matrix Revolutions, though he’s only aged around 20 years. Having become a successful video game creator based on his dreams and/or memories of being Neo, albeit vague, he’s been ensnared and forced to create for those who control him. In bouts of mini spurts of destiny, he continually runs into Tiffany, aka Trinity, aka Carrie-Anne Moss, who in this version of the Matrix is a suburban mother. Soon, however, his past and present and reality and dreams begin to bleed together as Neo slowly awakens and must choose to follow the white rabbit once more, this time in the form of Bugs, aka Jessica Henwick.
The Matrix has gotten even more robust, run by someone who takes a keen interest in humans to discern their weaknesses and desires in order to keep stricter control than ever. But Neo, despite being re-acclimated to the world of the awoken, is quicker to adapt and wiser in understanding when told that “choice is an illusion, you already know what you have to do,” that he only has one act to follow, and that’s to liberate both himself from the mindless drudgery of Matrix code law and make every effort to save Trinity from the same fate.
If there’s a theme in the first half of this film written by Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksandar Herman, it’s one that greatly emphasizes how the creative lifestyle and the need for success and certain life goals will drain a person of any creative excitement they once had. Neo and everyone around him is stuck in a monotonous loop of everyday life, literal hamsters on the wheel as we watch as everyone is plugged away on treadmills at tightly packed gyms, mindlessly racing away lest they stop and the machine falters. When you see Christina Ricci of all people suddenly appear for a second or two of throwaway dialogue, it’s all the more indicative of a film saying nothing quite matters in an artistic sense when money is involved and products are to be sold.
Changes arrive throughout through other characters where their makeup is the same, but with a twist. And not just in new faces playing familiar characters. Yahya Adul-Mateen II’s Morpheus is more playful, even gleeful, as he saunters into scenes with a light step and cheery grin that expresses his newfound agency. Jonathan Groff’s Smith (aka, Agent Smith) is controlled, but even through fits of rage, more human in his standoffs between Neo and others as he both tries to return the Matrix to its original form while simultaneously falling within the grays that so many exist in as he has a third act encounter that makes us question his true allegiances.
Neil Patrick Harris isn’t allowed to fully dominate the screen as much as the key five players but is given one of the most technically stunning sequences of the film as The Analyst, a rebranded “Architect” and creator of the newest iteration of the Matrix. Having stopped the normal process of time, he taunts Neo with the fact that to save Trinity is to kill her, further blurring the lines by stating that hope and despair are nearly identical in code. This is brought up earlier, too, when Morpheus jokes how his strolling out from a bathroom stall to introduce himself to Neo could be seen either as tragedy or farce. It might as well be both.
The paradox of free will plus destiny is where the textual meta nature of the film comes in. This is explored further in a cut scene where a group of writers and creators discuss the original Matrix video game that Neo is the reported creator of and all the many theories fans have had regarding the secret meanings behind the story. It leads to one of the most interesting facets of the film as it goes out of its way to rid the universe of the strict binary of red and blue.
The colors are purposefully deliberate but not in the way fans looking for easter eggs or signs are expecting. Henwick’s hair is blue and Morpheus wears a lot of reds in his suits. Neil Patrick Harris’s glasses are framed in blue, and the pods, of course, since the start, are red and bursting with contained life. What Matrix Resurrections aims to note is that none of these colors matter and they never did, which is why it’s all the more fitting that we don’t need pills to get Trinity out, just a person willing to step in on her behalf.. Similarly, we learn that many machines in the real world that used to be mindlessly programmed to attack humans have now attained their own autonomy, and some have even decided to fight on the side of humans. Or maybe just life in general.
Programs that exist solely in the Matrix can now communicate tangibly with those in the real world. It’s no longer a question of man versus machine, of corporations versus artists, or red versus blue. Wachowski and company. are deliberate and defiantly so in expressing disdain for the either-or mindset of the past, instead looking to a future of blurred lines and humanity as a means for self-evolution and purposeful change.
Following in the steps of films such as Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi or, more recently, the superb Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time, The Matrix Resurrections isn’t so much interested in deconstructing its own mythology as it is with throwing it away altogether. The Last Jedi asked what if lineage didn’t matter and proposed that anyone from anywhere could grow to be a hero. In Evangelion, a director best known for his works that felt near voyeuristic in his exploration of depression through global destruction asked what if our protagonist, often debilitated lead character Shinji, was allowed the time and space to grow and, ultimately, heal from old wounds, being remade in a new image.
The latest in the Matrix saga refuses to continue with the psychology and narrative borne over 20 years ago. The film refuses to deal outright with the ideology of there being a good or bad side, but rather arguing that there are good and bad people and machines and programs in both the real and programmed world.
Beyond this thread, the greatest tool of the new film is the uninhibited romance anchoring it. The world makes more sense to Neo when Trinity is in it and he would willingly risk death to save her from confinement. Reeves and Moss continue to have electric chemistry and it’s demonstrated further in the reversal of roles as Trinity essentially takes the same route Neo did in the first film, as she awakes and is later revealed to be the one with the source of power, the ability to fly (or the key to full, weightless, liberation).
This reconstruction of the idea of “the one,” which emphasizes finding your “the one,” no matter the odds, is what pulls on the innate romanticism of this story. At one point, a character states that “the world doesn’t end with you.” The film argues this point, sure enough. The world as a whole doesn’t stop moving when a savior type dies, but personal worlds are constantly ending, however momentarily, however intimately, every day, with the loss of a loved one. Trinity and Neo’s worlds did end in that first trilogy, but this fourth chapter chooses optimism in featuring the rebirth and rebuilding that comes when they find one another yet again.
Wachowski has beautifully built an antithesis to what people expect from legacy film sequels by making one that is more empathetic and heartfelt than the ones before it. The Matrix Resurrections is a poignant and purposeful look at our ability to change with time, and with one another. And how we’re at our best when simply possessing that capability. Silly and sincere, it’s one of the more hypnotic blockbusters in recent memory.
The Matrix Resurrections is out now. Watch the trailer here.